With exactly four weeks before the election, U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) and Congressional hopeful Andrew Hurst (D) squared off in a brief debate before the South County Federation on Tuesday night, Oct. 10.
Hurst, a business lawyer and political newcomer, told members of the Federation that he represented a new way of doing business on Capitol Hill, and that six more years of Davis would be six more years of following in President George W. Bush’s footsteps.
Outlining what he feels are the three fundamental differences between him and his opponent, Hurst said Davis has voted in line with the president 90 percent of the time in his political career. In addition, Hurst has rejected money from special interest groups, lobbyists and political action campaigns, something Davis has not done.
“Tom Davis is a proponent of the war in Iraq,” Hurst said, adding that Davis once allegedly called those who spoke out against the conflict “cowards.”
“I’m a proponent of changing the course,” Hurst said. “I believe we need an exit strategy, we need to set a timeline to get out of Iraq. We can’t get peace in Iraq until we show that we’re committed to leaving.”
IN HIS OPENING statements, Davis was quick to remind the Federation that he authored the bill that closed the Lorton prison early in his career, which began on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.
“I am not a Bush clone,” said Davis, rejecting Hurst’s claim. “If you look at the National Journal, I’m rated right down the middle in terms of my politics.”
Davis pointed to his investigation into government failings following Hurricane Katrina last year, a bipartisan report which scolded the government for not doing more to help victims faster.
“I supported the initial authorization of the war in Iraq just like most other legislators,” Davis said. “I disagree that we should set a public timetable for withdrawal. I certainly think we need an exit strategy but not one that leaves a problem behind that may jeopardize future generations.”
Davis said the challenges facing the country make this “no time to put a rookie with no experience in office.”
Opening the floor to questions, Federation member Tim Reizer asked Hurst why the voters of Fairfax County, with whom Davis has a long and positive relationship, should trust someone new.
“My opponent votes with the people on the far right, the ones who are doing bad things for our country,” Hurst said. “A lot of the things Tom says he wants to do won’t get done if he’s a member of the minority, and Congress is going to change hands this November.”
Hurst said there was a difference between heading committees to critique the government and standing up to the president, something he vowed to do if elected.
“There’s more to this job than just building roads,” he said.
Davis quickly pointed out his recent appearance on “Meet the Press” to criticize his fellow Republicans in light of the scandal around former Florida Rep. Mark Foley (R).
“I support the Republican’s economic policies because it’s done well, especially in this area. I can get things done whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in control.”
One Federation member, Peter Dickinson, said he couldn’t imagine Davis calling those who question the war cowards.
“When you criticize people who disagree with the occupation, it’s my job to defend them,” Hurst said.
Davis, who said he did not call dissenters cowards, replied that fighting war in a democracy is difficult, partly because of the free exchange of ideas and the open forum to question the government’s foreign policies.
“The reality is, you don’t want to replace someone willing to work across party lines,” Davis said.
In their closing statements, both men tried to plead their cases a final time, without the personal character attacks that had peppered the half-hour-long debate.
“This is not considered a targeted race,” Davis said. “If 40 seats in Congress change hands, they’ll fall before this one. I’m running on my record, I’m proud of it. He has no record,” he said of Hurst.
Hurst called the sitting Congress a “do-nothing Congress,” one which has taken more vacation time and, in turn, worked less and passed fewer bills than any other Congress in history.
“If you think it’s O.K. for the rest of the world to hate us, that’s your guy,” Hurst said. “If you like the current course, by all means, vote for Tom. I want to do something different. This country has gone the wrong way and I want to change the way things are done in Congress.”